Sydney has never been a stranger to large numbers of police. In the last several years, however, their presence has blown out to an obscene level.
On streets and highways, train carriages and bus stops, music festivals and sporting events, the various forces of “law and order” are swarming in greater numbers than ever.
Nowhere is this clearer than on public transport. In 2012, the state Liberal government dissolved the Railcorp security division. In its place, it increased the number of police on public transport by hundreds. In the two years after this change, 5,000 arrests were made and 92,000 fines issued.
The new approach culminated in the theatrically named “Operation Colossus”, in which hundreds of police officers mobilised to arrest seven people during a day in August 2014. Colossus has now become an annual event.
NSW police transport commissioner, Max Mitchell, told the Daily Telegraph that Colossus allows police to “identify” and “take action” against wrongdoers “before they have a chance to evade police”.
Looming posters plastered in every station remind us that this is about “keeping us safe and secure”. What it is really about is revenue raising and the penetration of policing into every pore of society.
The increase in policing is not confined to trains, buses and ferries. On 25 February a “crackdown” on cyclists resulted in 450 fines being issued. In a three-month period last year, $120,000 worth of fines for jaywalking were handed out by police.
Day to day harassment and petty tyranny are coupled with more serious incidents. In February alone, the police arrested and charged seven people at a music festival in Camden, tracked down a group of graffiti artists and pushed for them to be jailed (the 19-year-old “ringleader” received an 18-month sentence) and drove three young women to their deaths during a high speed car chase.
In 2011, Rachel Gardner, a Sydney University arts student, was getting off the train with some friends from overseas. When her friends couldn’t produce tickets or identification for the police, they were pinned to the ground.
When Gardner protested, she was kicked and sat on by the police. Her leg was broken in the incident. In 2014, she was awarded $243,000 in damages after video footage exposed as a lie the police denials of her account. Gardner’s public vindication is rare. Most victims of the police never get that far.